London Borough of Croydon (22 015 720)

Category : Adult care services > Transition from childrens services

Decision : Not upheld

Decision date : 17 Aug 2023

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mrs D complains about the Council’s decision not to award her daughter a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass and its delay in dealing with her application. We found no fault.

The complaint

  1. Mrs D complains about the Council’s decision not to award her daughter, Miss F, a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass and its delay in dealing with her application.
  2. Mrs D says as a result her daughter’s ability to travel and develop her independence has been adversely affected.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints of injustice caused by ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. I have used the word fault to refer to these. We consider whether there was fault in the way an organisation made its decision. If there was no fault in the decision making, we cannot question the outcome. (Local Government Act 1974, section 34(3), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with an organisation’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I spoke to Mrs D about her complaint and considered the Council’s response to my enquiries.
  2. Mrs D and the Council had an opportunity to comment on my draft decision. I considered any comments received before making a final decision.

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What I found

Disabled Person’s Freedom Pass

  1. The Freedom Pass is a travelcard for qualifying Londoners that offers free access to public transport across the Transport for London network.
  2. The Freedom Pass scheme is governed by the general legislation on concessionary fares in England (the Transport Act 2000 and the Concessionary Bus Travel Act 2007) and specific London provisions contained in the Greater London Authority Act 1999 and the Transport Act 2000. The eligibility criteria are set out in guidance from the Department for Transport.
  3. People receiving the higher rate mobility component of Disability Living Allowance or eight points or more in the 'moving around' component of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) automatically qualify for a Freedom Pass.
  4. People of any age with the following disabilities are eligible to apply:
        1. Blind or partially sighted.
        2. Profoundly or severely deaf.
        3. Without speech.
        4. A disability or an injury which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on ability to walk.
        5. Do not have arms or have a long-term loss of the use of both arms.
        6. A learning disability that is defined as a state of arrested or incomplete development of mind which includes significant impairment of intelligence and social functioning.
        7. Would have an application for a motor vehicle licence refused under section 92 of the Transport Act 2000 (physical fitness) other than on the grounds of persistent misuse of drugs or alcohol.
  5. The Council also offers discretionary passes to those who have either a physical disability or a severe mental illness and are supported by social services and are able to use their pass to achieve their care plan outcomes.
  6. A Travel Services Officer assesses the application and makes a decision based on the evidence provided. The Council does not have a deadline for how long it will take for an application to be considered, but it publishes the current processing times on its website. At the moment, this says up to 12 weeks.
  7. The Council reassesses pass holders on a rolling basis, so pass holders must keep their contact details up to date as re-assessments can take place at any time.
  8. If an application is rejected, the applicant can request a review. The application, evidence and information will be assessed by a different officer to the original application. If applicants remain unhappy they can request a Stage 2 appeal which is considered by a panel of council managers.

What happened

  1. Miss F has autism, mild learning disability, ADHD and anxiety. She has recurrent depressive episodes and is under the care of mental health services. Miss F has an education, health and care plan and has been attending a specialist college since September 2019. The Council provides transport for her to college.
  2. Mrs D says that Miss F previously automatically qualified for a Freedom Pass as she had received the higher rate mobility component of DLA when she was under 16. She also had a blue badge. After she turned 16, in November 2021 Miss F was awarded zero in the PIP moving around component.
  3. Mrs D applied for a new Freedom Pass for Miss F in December 2021. Her existing pass expired in March 2022.
  4. The Council considered Miss F’s application and wrote to her on 3 May 2022. It said the application had been refused as Miss F did not meet the qualifying criteria. The Council said it had considered the application under the criteria categories 4, 6 and 7.
  5. Mrs D appealed on 25 May 2022. The Council sought further information from a psychologist and reviewed the decision. It wrote to Mrs D on 29 July 2022. It upheld the refusal to award a pass. The Council said it did not have evidence that Miss F had a disability or injury that has a substantial and long term adverse effect on her ability to walk; had a mild learning disability which did not meet the legal threshold for criteria 6; and, despite requesting and chasing, it had not received evidence from health professionals that she would be barred from holding a driving licence due to her mental health difficulties (criteria 7).
  6. The letter also noted that Miss F had been awarded a blue badge as it had sufficient evidence that she was at risk to herself or others whilst walking. The Council said Miss F could apply for a 16+ zip Oyster card whilst she was in full time education.
  7. Mrs D asked for the application to be passed to the Stage 2 panel. In doing so, she said Miss F should not be considered under criteria category 7. A panel of managers considered the appeal on 22 September. The Council wrote to Mrs D with the outcome on 27 September. It again upheld the decision not to award the pass. The letter said:

“The panel felt that the additional evidence provided in support of Miss F’s application did not meet the qualifying criteria in regards to a significant learning disability and she does not meet the automatic qualifying criteria in regards to her mobility, as unfortunately the award of 12 points for the planning and following journeys descriptor for PIP does not qualify for any concession.

In addition, the panel were made aware that Miss F is in receipt of a blue badge, which was provided on the basis that she was unable to use public transport. As Miss F does not automatically qualify for both a blue badge and a Disabled Persons Freedom pass under the mobility criteria, it would not be possible to authorise the use of both provisions.

The panel were sympathetic to the health difficulties that Miss F experiences however as she does not meet the qualifying criteria and is in possession of a blue badge, the panel were unable to change the decision not to award a Disabled Persons Freedom Pass.”

  1. Mrs D came to the Ombudsman. In spring 2023 the Council allocated a social worker to Miss F to assess her adult care and support needs as she had turned 18.

My findings

  1. The Ombudsman is not an appeal body and it is not our role to decide whether Miss F is eligible for a Freedom Pass. My role is to consider whether there was any administrative fault in the way the Council has made its decision. If there was no fault in the decision making, I cannot question the outcome, no matter how much Mrs D or Miss F disagree.
  2. I have therefore reviewed the application and supporting evidence, and the Council’s case records showing how it considered the application. An officer made the decision on the original application. The review was assessed and decided by an occupational therapist. The Stage 2 Appeal Panel consisted of three managers.
  3. In response to my draft decision, Mrs D said a clinical psychologist had advised in a letter of 18 August 2022 that Miss F’s learning disability is highly significant in terms of her everyday functioning. The psychologist’s letter and the 2018 assessment of Miss F’s learning disability were considered by the Stage 2 Appeal Panel. Mrs D says the Council did not properly consider these but I have no evidence that they were not considered. That Mrs D disagrees with the Council’s decision that Miss F did not qualify under criteria category 6 is not evidence of fault in the way the supporting information was considered.
  4. The Council has considered Miss F’s application in line with the law, government guidance, and its own policy. It has determined she did not meet the qualifying criteria. This is a decision it was entitled to make and without fault in the way it was made, I cannot question it.
  5. Mrs D complained about the delay in the application being processed. She applied in late December 2021 but did not receive a response until 3 May 2022. Whilst I accept the Council has no set deadlines, the Ombudsman’s principles of good administrative practice say councils should deal with people promptly and explain any delays. My view is that four months to consider the application is a lengthy period to wait without being advised of any delay. However, this delay did not cause Miss F to miss out on a pass as the application was refused.
  6. I find the Stage 2 appeal panel’s decision letter to be unclear. It says “as Miss F does not automatically qualify for both a blue badge and a Disabled Persons Freedom pass under the mobility criteria, it would not be possible to authorise the use of both provisions.” This appears to link the decision about the blue badge with the separate decision about the Freedom Pass and could be taken to mean that a person has to qualify for both, or that if a person has one they cannot have another. This is confusing, though it has not caused any injustice to Miss F or Mrs D. I suggest the Council draft some clearer standard wording for these letters.

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Final decision

  1. There was no fault by the Council. I have completed my investigation.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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